by: Anthony Stewart, PhD
Politicians are not the only ones who should be considered for National Hero. I hereby submit that some ordinary citizens by virtue of their extraordinary accomplishments may be considered for this honour. Undoubtedly, they are role models to many and inspire even more by what they did. In the absence of the Committee for the consideration and selection of National Heroes, I hereby submit to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines “Mother” for National Hero.
Her credentials are unmatched and her wisdom worked wonders with the 12 children she nursed and the countless others who call her “Mother”. In appropriate circumstances she functioned as housewife, mother, Farmer, Educator, Volunteer, Counselor, Reader, Family doctor/Medic, School discipline reinforcer, Astute finance manager, Adviser to the Authorities.
She left a legacy of perpetual light and blessings to her offsprings and all those who came within her sphere of influence. She was the ultimate religious and moral guide. She recognized that children are children and would need a safe environment to make their mistakes as they explore to find themselves, develop a moral conscience, eventually leading them to be responsible citizens. They learn limits, that there are consequences for bad behavior, that there is cause and effect, that we must respect property, home, environment, authority and country. Mother was the understanding force behind children being who they are and becoming what they ought to be.
Regular daily morning worship was the forum where values were taught. They were reinforced at church services. These avenues allowed the children to express their thoughts, and gain feedback as their characters were formed. There is no soothing, pleasant, and understanding voice like that of Mother. Her words of advice were most trusted. She was the voice of reason in an unreasonable world. She was the safe port in a storm. She was shoulder of comfort to those who mourn. She was order in our disorder. Our mess was her opportunity to clean us up. Her wisdom covered our foolish behaviours.
She was proud to be known as a housewife. She recognized the important role she played in the moulding of her children.
She was always there. Fresh bakes for breakfast, good food at lunch, and something to eat in the evening. With so many mouths to feed, how did she manage to satisfy hungry children and have extras for the weary passerby? Besides her one dozen children, she still found time to care for her ageing parents and her mother-in-law. Others too benefited from Mother’s kind care as she took delight in assisting the elderly. She was a natural caregiver. She was also known as a giver as any visitor was usually given fruits. food stuff, or clothing to take away.
My father was treated like a king. His clothes were kept clean, pressed, and organized in his closet. His meals were served in special dishes and laid out on a waiter. At meal time he was provided with “basin, soap, water, and towel” to wash his hands before and after meals. The water came from the house cistern or the well quarter mile away. My father boasted that he had the best wife and to prove it, on a few occasions, brought home friends from the rum shop to be entertained with Mother’s cooking late at night. Although he was a smoker, he observed our house rule of no smoking in the house.
Pappy, as we affectionately called my father, was a sailor and usually spent nine months of every year out at sea. This meant that Mother raised us mostly by herself. She took to subsistence farming to provide adequate food for the family and more importantly to keep the children meaningfully engaged. She often said, “Satan finds work for idle hands to do”. We raised cattle, sheep, goats, and fowls. Corn, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, ochroes, peanuts, and cassava were the main crops grown. Fruit trees in our garden included plum, coconut, guava, orange, tamarind, soursop, lime, cherry and sugar apple.
Mother was the fashion designer for the home, sewing curtains, bedsheets, and clothes for the children and herself. She sometimes took old clothes to make new clothes. She was quite an accomplished homemaker even though she got married at the age of 17.
Mother kept her own library of books in the bookcase and added to her collection from time to time. The Bible books were the largest collection and were extensively used for moral and spiritual guidance. The Bible was highly prized book in Mother’s readings. She particularly liked Proverbs and we would read through them several times a year during worship.
`Bible story books were also read often. These were complemented by the Sabbath School Quarterlies that were age appropriate. We also treasured Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. Before we were able to read, we knew several Bible verses and Bible stories. So, by the time we were able to read our wide vocabulary was a reservoir of prior knowledge that we counted on as we connected printed words with what we already knew. Her wide reading and knowledge were perhaps why she was consulted by neighbours near and far. She also treasured her “doctor books” which she consulted to know how to treat us when sickness arose. She knew when to choose between traditional bush medicine and conventional medicine. She also knew when a visit to the doctor or clinic was warranted. Another impact of Mother’s reading is that she became an Independent Thinker. She could not be counted on to go along with the crowd. She thought things out herself and determined the right path to take. Mother wielded her influence in the Women’s League where she shared life skills and her philosophy with the other women in the society. She also supported the Parent Teacher Associations of the schools where her children attended.
But Mother’s most noteworthy achievement is that of being able to guide her children through schools to enable them to contribute meaningfully to the society. She could have chosen to raise her children in England, Barbados or Trinidad, but chose Union Island because she thought she would have better control in guiding us in the right paths. She also valued the help that other community members would provide in keeping the children safe and providing a conducive environment for their growth.
While my father was satisfied with a secondary education, Mother wanted us to be all we could be. This saw some of us gracing the halls of Universities in Canada, United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. With only a Primary school education, how did Mother manage to educate her one dozen children? Eleven of the Twelve attended Secondary School. The lone child not attending had the best apprenticeship education in the trades as he was attached to the best tradesmen of his day to enable him to become a Master Builder. Caribbean Union College Secondary school in Trinidad, St Vincent Grammar School, St Martin’s Secondary school, Emanuel High school, Girls High school and Union Island Secondary (opened 1972) together with the Ashton Government School all helped to build a strong education foundation.
Whether it was Primary, Secondary or Tertiary level education, Mother was there to lend her support not only through the PTAs, but more importantly by her personal effort. The discipline administered by teachers at school was reinforced at home. When teachers gave Spelling and Dictation at school, Mother also gave her own Spelling and Dictation at home.
Consequently, the success of her children were more a product of nurture and discipline rather than nature and natural ability. This is what makes the work of teachers so important. But they must get parental support in order to maximize the potential of students. The consequence of the combined effort of home and school resulted in the following Honour Card for Mother showing her children’s achievement:
#1 – Female – Pastor’s wife/Teacher.BA, B.Ed. University of Toronto
#2 – Male – Agriculturalist. BSc. UWI
#3 – Male – Engineer. BSc. BEng UWI, MSc, University of London
#4 – Male – Master Builder
#5 – Male – Medical Doctor BSc. CUNY DPM, New York College of Podiatric Medicine
#6 – Male – Architect/Builder. AA. NYIT (1954-1991)
#7 – Male – Accountant. Arkansas A&M (1955-2019)
#8 – Female – Registered Nurse. BSc. Oakwood University
#9 – Male – Educator. BSc. CUNY MA. Andrews. PhD, NCU
#10 – Female – Business Manager. BA. University of the Southern Caribbean. LLB.
#11 – Male – Architect/Construction manager AA. NYIT
#12 – Male – Musician (1964-1979)
What did Millicent Adriana Hutchinson Stewart do to be named a National Hero? She met the challenge of her time to raise a large family mostly through her own efforts utilizing the available support structure. Many mothers are in a quandry and think that they cannot help their children but Mother’s story can be a blueprint of what can be done to keep our children gainfully engaged in productive activities and succeeding academically and becoming good citizens of our blessed nation. This noble task many others may have done. She may represent all of them and inspire mothers of today to do the same and lift our nation higher.